Editor's note: On Nov. 23, 2015, Todd Bosnich was sentenced for obstructing justice after he admitted he created a phony email to make it appear DeMaio or his associates were threatening him. He also admitted to lying to the FBI about the email.
Controversial and highly disputed emails provided to NBC 7 Investigates include statements from Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio where he appears to be bragging about his campaign writing a UT San Diego editorial that was highly critical of DeMaio’s opponent and had a “UT San Diego editorial board” byline.
Former DeMaio staffer Todd Bosnich said he and campaign spokesman Dave McCulloch were the authors of an editorial entitled “Scott Peters and the Mount Soledad Shuffle.”
Bosnich accused DeMaio of improper sexual conduct in an interview with CNN on October 10. The DeMaio campaign says Bosnich was fired for plagiarism.
Bosnich now tells NBC 7 Investigates that he and McCulloch were the actual authors of a December 2013 editorial, which blamed Peters for San Diego's pension crisis and questioned the sincerity of Peters’ support for the veterans’ memorial on Mount Soledad.
“I worked with Dave on it,” Bosnich said. “So it was, basically, the two of us who wrote it.”
The December 2013 editorial says that “The newly renewed debate over the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial — and how Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, actually feels about it — isn’t just a tiff over trivia. Instead, it’s a revealing reminder that Peters has a history of being both slippery and insubstantive.”
UT San Diego Editor-in-Chief and Vice-President Jeff Light told NBC 7 Investigates that the editorial was written by a UT San Diego editorial writer and no one else.
“My only on the record comment would be that this story is absolutely, categorically false, and NBC knew that before broadcasting it,” Light said.
The emails provided to NBC 7 indicate that after the editorial ran, McCulloch reached out to a consultant, other campaign staff and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) boasting that “UT San Diego scorched Peters over the Soledad Cross today, saying ‘Peters has a history of being both slippery and insubstantive’ and that ‘rewriting his own history and ducking responsibility for his actions have always come easy to Scott Peters.’"
In response, Alleigh Marree of the NRCC said: “This is great. Will be able to use these lines A LOT.”
In the email thread provided to NBC 7 Investigates, DeMaio wrote back, “Well, we did wrote (sic) it ourselves.”
William Osborne, editorial/opinion director of UT San Diego, told NBC 7 Investigates that UT San Diego editorial writer Chris Reed wrote the editorial. According to Osborne, the DeMaio campaign claimed the email thread had been fabricated.
“If that email is authentic, I cannot explain it and won’t speculate,” Osborne said. “I can only tell you that Carl DeMaio personally denied to me that he wrote it and said it (the email) was a ‘fabrication.’”
Bosnich said the email thread was not altered in any way, adding that the editorial appeared almost “exactly word for word” as he and McCulloch wrote it.
NBC 7 Investigates provided the email thread with the metadata, information that describes content and context of data files, to a cyber-security expert for review. Stephen Cobb, a senior security researcher at ESET, said the metadata and emails looked genuine.
NBC 7 Investigates watched Bosnich pull up the email from his Gmail server, which the cyber-security expert said would leave zero doubt about the validity of the contents of the emails.
Bosnich also allowed NBC 7 to go through the emails in his Gmail account to show nothing was forged or altered on the thread in question or in other campaign emails in the news.
In response to questions for this article, McCulloch declined to comment.
“We had an extremely cozy relationship with the UT San Diego that always struck me as something that was frankly unethical,” Bosnich said, adding that Reed regularly stopped by DeMaio campaign headquarters, “just to say a friendly ‘hi.’"
After the original version of this story posted, Reed tweeted: "Claim that I "regularly stopped" by DeMaio headquarters 100 percent false." He added in the tweet: "Never there once. And I wrote that edit."
“There’s nothing new about a partisan newspaper, but the length the UT would go always shocked me,” Bosnich said.
By contrast, Peters’ campaign aides said that starting in June 2013 the UT San Diego editorial board would not accept any op-ed articles from their campaign because the newspaper already considered Peters a candidate for re-election.
Peters’ campaign manager provided NBC 7 Investigates with a copy of an August 2014 email thread that discussed an op-ed submitted for consideration by Ed Lorenzen, a Peters supporter.
“Thanks, Ed, but we will not be able to use it,” Osborne replied to Lorenzen. “We have a policy of not using unsolicited op-eds supporting one candidate or another this close to an election.”
The “slippery” line from the anti-Peters editorial was later used in a television campaign ad against Peters, who appears in the ad as a cartoon character driving a convertible BMW with an announcer saying: "Why did the press call Congressman Scott Peters 'slippery?'"
McCulloch did not provide to NBC 7 Investigates any emails or documents that back up his position that the emails provided by Bosnich had been altered, falsified or fabricated.
Osborne also did not provide copies of edited versions of the editorial or internal discussions that would indicate Reed wrote the piece.
But before this piece published, Light created a website with links to a UT San Diego news article, the editorial in question and an email from McCulloch. The website included a full statement from Light about Bosnich’s claim:
“The claim that DeMaio's operatives were the secret authors of an editorial about Scott Peters' record on the Mt. Soledad issue is false. The editorial was written by Chris Reed, whose distinctive style is evident throughout the piece. Reed was responding in part to an email from DeMaio campaign spokesman Dave McCullouch. The editorial argues the same points raised in McCullouch's email, but there is no ethical (sic) breech there. The editorial board is lobbied daily by partisans of all stripes. As a matter of course, the editorial writers promote the arguments they agree with and attempt to refute the rest. Our writers do their own writing and their own research. Anyone familiar with Chris Reed's formidable intellect and scrupulous character would be struck by how utterly preposterous this claim is. There was nothing untoward about the process on the Soledad editorial. The claim that it was authored by DeMaio's team is bogus.”
Ed. Note: We updated this article to clarify William Osborne's response to the DeMaio email thread and to include Chris Reed's response that he has never been to DeMaio's HQ.